India’s democracy was dealt with another blow after the police detained petitioners and activists at the Rashtrapati Bhawan for trying to submit petitions against the RTI Amendment Bill.
Last week, the Lok Sabha had approved the RTI Act for amendment but it triggered a protest. Petitioners and activists made their way to the Rashtrapati Bhawan today to submit the petitions to the President but were detained at the Mandir Marg police station. Anjali Bhardwaj, an activist, tweeted that, “police is detaining everyone who wants to petition the President to withhold his assent to the #RTIAmendments. No right to even peacefully submit a petition the President in our country now?? Is this a democracy?”
The National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) in a press release said the proposed amendments are aimed at undermining the independence of information commissions, thereby diluting India’s strongest and most widely used law for transparency.
Bhardwaj, who is a member of NCPRI, had said the government wants to amend the RTI Act in order to dictate the salaries and tentures of state and central information commissioners. “It is clear that the government wants to deprive the information commissions and the commissioners of their independence so that they do not take any decision that goes against the government’s will or release any information to the public that the government does not want released,” she said.
Whilst defending the Bill, Union Minister Jitendra Singh had said there is a provision that suo-motu you should provide maximum information in public domain so that the number and the need for RTIs reduces. Singh said the amendments will streamline functioning and remove anomalies. However, opposition members argued that amendment would weaken the law by gaining more control over the working of the information commissions.
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Senior Congress leader, Shashi Tharoor said this was a deliberate attempt to weaken the RTI Act. Tharoor said the government can hire and fire information commissioners as they like, pay them as they chose and most of all it will affect the institutional integrity.